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The Well Rounded Woman … Goes to Market

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Like so many moms, the Well Rounded Woman has a sentimental side, which explains why she has saved every single Mother’s Day gift her children have ever given her. Those tiny plaster-cast hands, the kindergarten-era portraits, the “World’s Greatest Mom” mugs fashioned from Play-Doh … She cherishes them all. Really. It’s just that this discriminating dame occasionally yearns for something—hmmm, how can I put it delicately?—a little more adult. I’m not talking X-rated, mind you, or even X-travagant: fun and funky would suffice. So in anticipation of Mother’s Day, she’s opting for a pre-emptive strike, picking out her own presents at the mother lode of markets.


Say Good Buy, Buenos Aires
South America’s most sophisticated metropolis has plenty of places to stock up on high-end goods—the Euro-chic shops of Galerías Pacífico and trendy boutiques of Palermo Viejo being only two examples. But our bargain hunting heroine prefers to haunt the neighborhood ferias that open across Buenos Aires each weekend. Her favorite stop for handcrafted housewares sets up Saturdays and Sundays outside the famed Recoleta Cemetery (its location allowing visitors to literally shop til they drop!). Since the deals are to die for, she can scoop up an armload of hammered-metal photos frames, table linens, and wonderful woven throws for only $50.


Equally appealing buys can be found on Sundays in the colonial San Telmo quarter, where handmade items are supplemented by a hefty selection of antiques and collectibles. Considering many affluent Porteños were forced to clean out their attics soon after the economy tanked in 2001, the true treasures are likely long gone. Nevertheless, the Well Rounded Woman is welcome to join the haggling hordes around Plaza Dorrego. Resembling a sunnier version of London’s Portobello Road (with business conducted in 2/4 tango time) the area is crammed with 250-plus vendors hawking religious icons, retro crockery, vintage silver … even the family jewels. 


Get Oriented
Speaking of jewels, when she has a hankering for bracelets, brooches, pendants, and earrings, Hong Kong’s absurdly cheap Jade Market is hard to beat. Made up of two shed-like buildings in the Kowloon district, it is jammed full of China’s “royal gem.” Jewelry is priced from a few bucks a piece and comes in colors ranging from traditional emerald to midnight black and an intense sunset orange. As if the selection of jade wasn’t enough to make her friends back home green with envy, our peripatetic purchaser can also take her pick of fat freshwater pearls available in hand-knotted loops of various lengths starting at around $15 per pearl.


Luckily, those low costs mean that there is enough left in her budget to buy a matching outfit at the nearby Ladies Market, which takes over several blocks of Tung Choi Street daily from 12:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Claustrophobes might be uncomfortable in this tightly-packed venue and shopping snobs would be appalled by the volume of junk. But amid the teetering stacks of “I Love Jackie Chan” t-shirts, our frugal fashionista can find sultry Suzie Wong-style cheongsam dresses, along with embroidered mandarin jackets and tablecloth-sized silk scarves: all of which are sold by eager touts armed with calculators to make the bartering process as easy as possible.


Feel Warm and Fez-y
Of course, if the Well Rounded Woman is in the mood for something truly exotic, there is no place like the maze-like medina of Fez, Morocco. Negotiating it is no picnic. Streets within North Africa’s largest marketplace are narrow and gnarled; and pack mules (the only means of transportation available within the medina’s ancient walls) invariably take precedence over pedestrians. Moreover, when light filters through the thatched roofing of the souks and the air suddenly fills with the scent of aromatic spices, the sensory overload is enough to make our intrepid traveler swoon. Yet every moment in this bizarre bazaar is worth the effort.


The emphasis here is on age-old tools and artisans’ skill, which together transform the most basic materials into objet d’art. Coppersmiths rhythmically beat cauldrons into shape, weavers create coveted carpets, and tailors turn skeins of brilliantly dyed thread into djellabas (Morocco’s traditional hooded robes). Tanners, meanwhile, craft hide into handsome leather handbags that sell for as little as $10 and leftover ox horns are molded into one-of-a-kind combs that go for a quarter a piece. So even with the cost of a guide factored in (at about $25 for a half day, it’s a wise investment) the Well Rounded Woman can afford to indulge her every desire.


Overburdened with boxes and bags, our market-loving mama comes to the realization that Father’s Day is also looming and next month, in honor of it, she resolves to raise a glass to dear old Dad.

Photo of Hong Kong’s Jade Market, courtesy of author

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